So this is what I wrote for Veriea's Zelink week in December. It's mostly finished, but needs to be spruced up, so I'll be posting each chapter as I revise them. Enjoy!
By your side
She ran as if the bloodthirsty hounds of the dark one were panting at her heels. She ran despite her rapid intakes of breaths, accounting for her sudden onset of dizziness; and the heavy panging of her racing heart, threatening to burst from her chest. She ran because there was no stopping.
Because if she stopped she would most certainly meet death.
And arrow tore past her and nicked a slit in her sleeve. Zelda gave a terrified sob at the closeness of the shot. She kept to the denser clusters of trees, where there was more underbrush and hanging branches, praying it would hold as a meager layer of protection between her and her assailants.
A foul curse sounded somewhere behind her too close for her liking. Way too close. They were rapidly catching up to her. The thundering of hastened footsteps never ceasing as they came after her.
Zelda gave another sob as a second arrow shot, this time embedding in the trunk of a tree she'd just passed.
Pushing to a frantic pace, she sprinted through a patch of brambles and stumbled when her night shift was caught in the branches. She yanked at the material, hands gripping the fabric tightly as she tried to free herself. Daring a hasty glance behind her she whimpered to find the men – those vile brigands – rapidly closing in on her.
Tears cascaded down her face and she wiped them from her vision then desperately renewed her efforts. With one last forceful jerk, the gown ripped free.
Giving a muted cry, she turned and ran, uncaring that it had been one of her favorites. A patch of fabric was left hanging from the bent branches, evidence of her passing.
The time spent untangling herself from the bush had caused the brigands to close another few yards distance between them. She could hear their gleeful shouts as she came into their sights.
Zelda sprinted through the woods as quick as her legs could carry her, desensitized to the abuse her bare feet were receiving.
Oh, why hadn't she kept her riding clothes on like her attendant had suggested? Shad had been the one to advice her never to sleep in regular nightwear when not in an actual bed. Be ready to run. Be ready to ride at all times. But she hadn't. She'd foolishly discarded his advice as she always did.
Another arrow was shot. This one punctured the tree immediately to her right.
A startled shriek erupted unbidden from her throat and Zelda fought the instinct to duck down and curl herself in a ball with eyes shut tight and just hope that it all ended. That they'd just leave her alone.
They had to be nigh for such clear shots to go unimpeded by the dank foliage.
A whimper escaped between the harsh pants as she frantically gasped for air. Her chest was about to burst from the lack of sufficient oxygen.
"Please stop," she gasped weakly, a silent plea. An unheeded one.
The next arrow to be released pierced the wood of a low-hanging branch feet in front of her.
It was enough. Dreading the sight of anymore arrows, her eyes snapped shut as she harrowed on. A foolish action which cost her her footing.
Zelda tripped, her ankle colliding harshly against a tree root, and fell tumbling through an array of ferns.
Something sharp scratched her arm as gravity pulled her down. Zelda whipped open her eyes, jaw dropping wordlessly as she landed on hands and knees in a small clearing.
Her heart pounded when she saw that a mere ten feet in front of her the forest came to an abrupt halt as it led off onto a ledge. Gathering herself up, Zelda tentatively strode forward, her stomach plummeting at the sight of the drop.
It was a relatively small chasm, although still daunting. Far below stretched a raging river, with rocks jutting from the surface like the jaws of a bear.
She swallowed and cautiously backed away, heart pounding frantically in her chest. If she hadn't tripped- if she'd continue running with her eyes closed-
The thought made her queasy. She wanted nothing but to roll to the side and vomit.
It felt dangerous to look at. Even more so to swim it. There was no way to cross. She'd have to choose a new direction. But which way to go?
Crude laughter echoed in the space behind her. Lamenting her hesitation, she turned shakily to see the four men that had pursued her emerge from the trees, predatory sneers on their snide faces.
Zelda fought for her composure as she backed up a step, coming eerily close to the lip of the chasm.
Three arrows immediately trained on her, however one of the men waved them down. Disgruntled, the others obeyed. The first man strode forward with purpose, careful to keep his distance as he scrutinized her.
Like approaching a skittish kitten, Zelda fancied.
The man spoke, voice husky and coercive, "Come now, girly. We ain't gonna kill you."
The men exchanged jeering smirks with one another. Zelda's bottom lip started trembling.
Her father would have had them all blinded with the way they looked at her. But as such, her father wasn't here. And neither were her guards. She was completely on her own.
She flinched and darted her gaze to the right as one of the other men strode closer, this one with a hooked nose and a missing eye. "But we will mess with you a bit if you don't listen to us." He gave a mocking smile, displaying a set of yellow-stained teeth. "Come with us nice and quiet-like and nothing will happen to you. Once we get the money from your dear old daddy the king we'll let you go peacefully."
"But if you're not a good girl we'll be sending him your corpse."
Mocking laughter resounded and Zelda felt her stomach lurch.
So they wanted her for ransom. No, she was deluding herself. They wanted her for auction. To offer her to the highest bidder. Shad had warned her of such things as well. Her father was king and because of that had a great deal of enemies, many with power great enough to pose a serious threat if it came to blackmail using his daughter. If her father didn't place a high enough bid the wellbeing of the whole country would be at stake. But then her own wellbeing would be at stake if his council forced him to forsake his only child for the good of the nation.
At that enlightenment Zelda felt a course of determination fill her. That could not happen. She would not allow herself to be leverage against her father. Her poor ailing father…
"Come on now," gruffed the first man, taking another step forward. "Don't make us have to get rough with you. You wouldn't like that."
There was dishonesty in his voice. Dishonesty which he didn't even attempt to conceal. But of course, these were brigands. Bandits. Lies were their bread and butter. She was no fool. She wasn't ignorant as to what happened to women unfortunate enough to be taken as loot. Their promise that she'd remain unharmed was an empty one. No matter what she decided or how cooperative she was, they were bound to commit all sorts of insidious atrocities to her.
If it was a choice they were giving her, then she'd choose death. Death over being their play toy. Death, no matter how gruesome or painful it may be.
Her foot shifted closer to the drop. The roaring of the rapids behind her suddenly a comfort.
"Come on little princess," snarled the one-eyed man, latching an arrow to his bowstring and pulling it back. "What will it be?"
Goddesses, she didn't have a choice. She would take her own life before she let these men capture her.
Before she could react on her decision the one-eyed man aimed his bow and let loose his arrow.
Startled, Zelda was jerked backwards by the force of the impalement, and slipped, her feet flying out from under her.
Angry hollers followed her as she fell, streams of long chestnut colored hair whisking around her face.
She closed her eyes and gave herself to the mercy of the rapids.
Brackish water had filled her lungs and her chest gave a great upheave, purging them of liquid.
Zelda coughed and coughed. She turned over on her side and coughed again. Her airway burned like the searing of a hot iron as enough water was finally expelled that she was able to gulp in air, throat aching and sore.
Exhausted, she crawled further onto the soil and lay still, too numb for movement.
She was on land, was the first thought to enter her subconscious. She had survived. If not impaled by the rocks in the river, she'd been certain she would have drowned. And the arrow… She'd been shot. But she couldn't feel where. All she felt was an aching heaviness and the burn in her chest.
After a time, whereupon the fire in her throat had diminished to a feeble smolder, she attempted to get up, only to groan and flop back down as every muscle in her body loudly protested. Everything was so cold, she could hardly move.
Clenching her fists with effort, she dauntlessly pried her eyes open and was granted a hazy vision of the landscape. The world a jumble of blurred streaks of grey.
Her system was failing. She was rapidly being pulled back to the realm of unconsciousness.
The last thing she remembered as her mind went blank was the shuffling of foliage and the huff of warm breaths against her skin.
It was night when she awoke next.
Zelda groaned and shifted about, confused to find herself buried beneath a generous pile of leaves.
She sat up, the mound of leaves tumbling around to collect at her waist. She gasped as her whole body screamed in one long cry of pain. It felt as if she'd been pummeled by a moblin club again and again, over and over until she was one massive bruise. And her shoulder burned like fire. What had happened?
Blearily she scanned her surroundings, rubbing her temples in bemusement. What in Hyrule…? Where was she? Where were her guards? How had she…
In a flood of memories the events of the past few hours rushed back to her. Zelda stared blankly into the darkness and blinked, newly developed tears running down her cheeks.
A hand came to her mouth and she quavered. Oh Goddesses! Almighty Goddesses, Why?!
Cries bubbled up from her throat, and Zelda was helpless to stop them. Trembling, she pulled up her legs and wrapped her arms around herself. Burying her head into her knees, she cried heart wrenching sobs.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Something like this should never had happened to her.
She had been en route from Castle Town to Minish to return to the university she'd been attending after a brief break spent at home. Thirty guards had been her escort, and with their numbers and their great acuity for battle she'd felt safe travelling with them. But then it had all gone wrong. The men on watch that night had been taken out swiftly, unable to warn the rest of her entourage of the imminent danger. And then everything had devolved into absolute mayhem. Nine of her guard had betrayed their own. Imposters. They had turned on the other men protecting her. Then came the brigands, a vicious lot whose battle cries shot tremors down her spine. One of the guards still loyal to her had managed to reach her tent to warn her and had died trying to sneak her away.
The skirmish had been swift and deadly. A massacre. Her guards had been taken by surprise. Survival was impossible. All of her men… dead for her sake. For some paltry sum of money.
Her shoulders trembled. The tears cascading down her face soaked her damp nightdress.
All of them gone. She was completely alone now. What was to become of her?
She was lost and by herself in a woodland that was as dangerous as the men who were after her. She was wounded, her strength had long given out, and she was burdened by fear and despair.
Survival wasn't possible on her own. She was Hyrule's princess. Others took care of her. She could be independent on the occasional instance she put her mind to it, but not like this. She'd been living with luxuries all her life. It had been her right as royalty. To be denied them now served to expound how truly helpless she was.
An inner self-loathing manifested at that realization. Princess of the land, yet useless for anything but looking pretty at parties. She'd been loved and doted on, but that amounted to nothing here. Here she'd stay and here she'd perish. Her father would forever live in bereavement, wondering what had happened to his dear cherished daughter.
Her breath then hitched.
Oh Goddesses, her father! How would he react to learning of her attack? He wouldn't be able to take it. Not with his heart problems!
Her sobs began anew and Zelda buried herself in the feeling of despair. The feeling of her throbbing shoulder and the aches of her tender body were forgotten in her misery.
The trod of cushioned paws skulked close, but Zelda was too immersed in the sea of her rampant emotions to take notice of anything around her. Not until a twig snapped and the owner of those paws snuffed.
Gasping in surprise, her head shot up, eyes wide as they tried to pierce the perilous darkness. Her melancholy was shoved aside as terror returned full force.
Had those men found her?
She whimpered at her lack of foresight. It had been foolish to remain idle for so long. She should have been up and away as soon as she'd regained her mobility. She needed to find a village and get back… get back to the castle.
Her eyes darted to her left as a shadow suddenly prowled into being. Large with calculated movements. It sleeked closer, a low growl rumbling deep in its throat.
Zelda shot to her feet, legs sore and quavering, but anxiousness forced her to ignore their weakness.
The shadow stopped, and Zelda saw in horror two glowing eyes narrow at her from the darkness.
A maw opened, two rows of pointed white teeth were bared at her as the creature snarled.
Without thinking, Zelda turned tail and once again was pelting through trees and bracken, desperation-fueled adrenaline giving her limbs a sudden surge of strength.
Any moment she expected to hear the thundering of a limber body chasing through the woods after her, breaths raw and coarse, saliva building as the beast tasted her scent and grew hungered by it. Urgently, Zelda compelled her legs to carry her faster, whimpering as her muscles protested the exertion.
Zelda groaned aloud as a fallen tree blocked her path, the trunk so wide she wouldn't be able to jump it.
Clear thought was not with her today, for instead of heading another direction and finding a quicker way of escape, she rushed up to the log and wasted valuable time clambering over it.
As she hefted herself up and swung around to the other side her leg was snagged by one of the broken branches and tore a long scratch down her calf. Crying out in pain, Zelda tumbled the rest of the way down, palms scrapping against dirt and forest debris.
After a moment she sat up and made to get to her feet before collapsing against the log, wracked with uncontrollable sobs.
It was useless. She wasn't meant to survive. The harsh wilderness was too formidable an opponent. Why fight? It was evident. Death was coming for her either way. Why run and delay it with the vain desire to live? She'd endured enough.
Trembling with self-directed grief, she curled her body in a tight ball against the fallen trunk and closed her eyes, wrapping filthy dirt-smeared arms around her to preserve her last bit of heat. Her night shift was still wet and the cool temperature was merciless against her frozen skin.
She wept hard, subdued with resignation. Anguish flooded her at the realization she'd never get to see her father again, nor any of her friends. Her poor father would be devastated upon learning of the death of his daughter. His heart wouldn't be able to take it. She may as well have killed her father.
Hot breath puffed against the back of her head.
Nerves firing in terror, Zelda whipped around and froze in place when she saw slanted predatory eyes peering down at her like twin beacons, inches from her face.
The stress of the past few hours combined with her fright proved too much for her mind to handle. In an instant her body shut down as she fell into a dead faint.
Something was curled around her. Something that radiated warmth and tenderness.
She had been found.
She comforted herself with the knowledge that some of her guards – those loyal of her retinue - had survived. They'd found her and layered upon her heaps of fur to bring heat back into her ice-cold body. It filled her exhausted form with a muted sort of peace. It was like an absolution she had been deprived of for so very long.
Languoring in that peace, she pressed her face into the coarse furs, ignoring the part of her mind that blared warning signals in her head. The scent of pine and rain, like the residue of an old forest, wafted through her nose as awareness came to her then. Something wasn't right.
Reactively, she tensed up as her senses were reinstated one by one. With hesitation she opened her eyes, caution urging her to move slowly.
Grey fur met her vision. Grey fur and the rise of a heavy flank beneath her cheek.
Dread launched through her and she pushed away from the thing, backing up on her rear until her limbs seized fearfully when the sleeping beast roused.
A wolf peered at her, scrutinizing as it blinked with unyielding blue eyes. It remained where it was, lying down on its side, and made no move of aggression. Simply watching her.
Zelda was caught by its profound stare. Those blue eyes. They were unworldly. So Hylian. Despite her dire predicament, they drew from her a well of fascination.
Unconsciously she became less fearful as she perceived the beast's full mane of dark grey fur and the markings on its brow, reflected in the fraction of orange illumination from the rising sun. There was a design there, styled so purposefully it might have been painted on.
What sort of creature was this?
The wolf appeared to have had enough of their staring contest and hauled itself up to its feet before treading its way over to her.
Dread returned as the beast drew near, immobilizing her. She raised her arms over her head in feeble defense as she waited for the creature to attack. She imagined the sinking of claws as they reaped into flesh and the snap of powerful jaws as its incisors locked around her neck, and whimpered.
Instead she felt the queer brush of something moist against her injured forearm. She dared to open her eyes, widening them as the wolf tapped its nose against her again before giving a quick lick.
Tepidly, she lowered her arms, the call for self-preservation not as strong as it had been before.
The wolf blew a cloud of misty breath from its nose as its ears drooped. His tail as well was lowered, and somewhere in her mind from recollections of visiting the palace kennels as a child, she remembered that it was the canine sign of submission. That or it was trying to make itself look less threatening.
It padded around her, causing her to jolt. Her shoulder panged with a sharp sting of pain and she darted her hand to it. There. That was where she'd been shot. The arrow had hit her here… but it was gone. Somehow it had come loose. The bleeding had stopped too. Her wound was scabbed over, beneath a crusty splotch of dried red.
She tensed as the wolf's fur brushed against her cheek and could have sworn it rolled its eyes as it gave a huff and lay down beside her, tail wrapping snugly against her legs, resuming its earlier position of rest.
Zelda hadn't realized how cold she was until the wolf was again lending its vast supply of warmth to her shivering form. It lowered its head on its forepaws and proceeded to close its eyes, breathing softly. After a moment it lifted its head and looked right at her, as if asking her why she was not relaxing. Its eyes then chided her for not resting when she should.
Zelda couldn't relax even if she wanted to. Everything was too overwhelming. The sudden attack and mad rush to get to safety, falling into the river, the oddity of her current predicament… She just couldn't stand it.
To perplex her further, the wolf leaned in and gave her cheek a tentative lick.
She sucked in a harsh breath as it once again gave her that same intense stare.
Why was this happening? Why was she feeling soothed by a wild wolf? Wolves were vicious killers, man-eaters, the plague of livestock. The only praise she'd heard for them was in regards to the fine quality of their pelts. Nothing of the nobility she witnessed now.
Their eyes connected and it was as if he spoke to her through them. Saying: 'Sleep now. Nothing shall harm you. You are safe. I'll be right here by your side.'
Zelda was suddenly flooded with a torrent of emotion. It built up within her. Overflowing. Demanding liberation.
Without regard to the impulsivity of her actions, she flung her arms around the wolf, immersing frozen fingers into its thick mane. Clutching the beast as tightly as she could, she wept wretched sobs into its fur.
By your side…
Finally, she felt safe.
A/N: This plays with the idea that Zelda was raised as a coddled child with too few expectations and so she is entirely dependent on others and can't do anything for herself. Yeah, pretty different than my usual take, but it's a neat experiment.
Hope everyone enjoyed!